Earlier this month, the Legislative Research Council issued its fiscal note on the “meta-initiative“—the initiative to reform the initiative process—that I’ve proposed. Where the Attorney General used each one of the 200 words statute allows him to write the official explanation that would appear on the petition, the LRC decided it didn’t need even the mere 50 words to which statute limits it in explaining the potential costs of an initiative to the public.
The LRC’s December 10 fiscal note deploys only 36 words (and two numbers, but remember, numbers are free!) to say that only two tiny portions of my eleven-section, 2,567-word initiative would cost us anything. Those cost-generators are in Section 1 and Section 2, which, among other things, change the deadline for submitting initiative petitions (law and constitutional amendment) from twelve months before the general election to four months before the general election, from early November of the year before we vote to early July of the year we vote. LRC speculates that moving the deadline closer to the election would require the Secretary of State to “increase staffing resources temporarily” to the tune of “approximately $35,000 every two years.”
$35K, every other year—that’s less than half of what we taxpayers are shelling out for Kristi Noem to create a state job for her daughter. According to the LRC, my plan will cost the state far less than Noem’s nepotism.
But LRC is giving us a worst-case scenario. I contend that allowing citizens to submit initiative petitions until early early July will not cost the Secretary of State $35,000 every election year. Remember that in 2015, the Secretary of State’s demonstrated its ability to turn around two petitions in two work days. A lot of that work is done by people already on the clock, many salaried who get no overtime. The extra hours involved during crunch times like petition submission deadlines and election days are part of the job.
But suppose the salaried SOS staff get some help from four hourly staff and four temps recruited for the task of turning petitions around in July. Suppose some petitions are larger than the two petitions the Secretary cranked through in two days in 2015 and the average turnaround time is 1.5 workdays with eight regular hours and four hours of overtime paid time and a half. Assume the full-time staff drawing overtime are averaging a regular wage of $20 an hour and the temps get a regular wage of $15 an hour.
By this morning’s breakfast spreadsheet, I figure each petition in a July crunch would cost us $1,980 in additional labor costs. In 2017, when the Secretary received eight initiative petitions, the cost to turn them around in the single month before ballot printing would have been $15,840. In an unusual petition year like 2015, when the Secretary got ten initiative and referendum petitions, the cost would be $19,800.
Of course, we could obviate all of that cost simply by electing a Democratic Legislature that would listen to the people. If the Legislature wasn’t trying to protect its privilege at every turn by hamstringing initiative and referendum, trying to repeal the things the public does vote on, and refusing to end gerrymandering and fund education properly, citizens wouldn’t need to circulate initiative and referendum petitions and trouble the Secretary to check so many signatures.
It seems unlikely that allowing citizens to circulate initiative petitions for another eight months will cost the state even as much as the paltry $35,000 that the LRC estimates. But hey: if we legalize sports betting in Deadwood, LRC says we’ll net $77,795 for the state general fund. So o.k. my initiative reform and Deadwood’s sports betting, and we can pay for faster petition checking and Kennedy Noem’s job!
p.s.: I’m curious: In their fiscal note on my meta-initiative, LRC says “approximately” and rounds to thousands. In their fiscal note on Deadwood sports betting, they calculate to six significant digits and estimate tax revenue down to the dollar. I would think wages and work time on petition-checking are more readily available and calculable than estimated revenue from a new commercial enterprise whose revenue will depend on far more variables.